Workers who fought the UAW's organizing drive in Chattanooga now have a union of their own.
One year after the UAW's failed bid to organize Volkswagen's sole U.S. plant, a group called the American Council of Employees last week won recognition to represent some of the plant's hourly and salaried workers, many of whom opposed the UAW's organizing drive.
The UAW is there, too, with a local in Chattanooga that represents more than 45 percent of hourly workers. That creates an arrangement that's unique in the U.S. auto industry: two groups -- one expressly opposed to the other -- representing workers of the same plant, defying the concept of solidarity that has long underpinned the U.S. organized-labor movement.
It also creates a peculiar set of challenges. To amplify its voice, the ACE will have to transition from an opposition group to a more official voice for workers. And it will have to show workers that it is substantially different from the UAW, yet equivalent to it.
For now, the differences loom large.
While the UAW's clout has dwindled along with its membership, it can still throw its weight around in national politics. The ACE, meanwhile, is new and small, with just five officers, all of them VW Chattanooga employees.
Being lean and local is a key selling point, says ACE President Sean Moss, a quality inspector at the plant who answered questions about the group during breaks on his Thursday, Feb. 19, shift.
"Employees who join ACE benefit by joining a local, employee-led organization dedicated solely to protecting their right to have a direct say in the future of their jobs and their community, instead of delegating decision-making and discussions with management to a third-party, led from Detroit," Moss wrote in an email.
The group says its dues will be as little as half the UAW dues because of the group's low overhead.
With more than 15 percent of hourly and salaried plant employees on its rolls, the ACE qualifies as a Level 1 group, the lowest of three rungs in Volkswagen's Community Organization Engagement policy. Each level confers a corresponding level of access to VW management.